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How to Live with a Small Kitchen Without Doing a Major Renovation

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Inside: Tips for how to live with a small kitchen without doing a major renovation; from DIY organizing ideas to affordable storage and home decor. 

If I had a quarter for every time I watched HGTV and the would-be-homeowners said their number one must have is a ‘Big Kitchen’ – well, I’d have enough cash money to buy myself a house with a big kitchen. But the fact of the matter is this: I don’t have a big kitchen and my house is not a ‘tear down the walls’ kind of house. We have centre stairs that make the ‘open concept’ thing way out of the range of possibility. Today I want to talk about how to live with a small kitchen without doing a major renovation.

If you want to check out some of the more brilliant kitchen posts I’ve done, don’t miss our pull-out pantry, our peel and stick back splash tile and our recent adventure painting the base kitchen cabinets in navy. You might also want to check out how we declutter our kitchen on the regular. small kitchen organizing ideas

How small is a small kitchen?

I live with a tiny kitchen. Like a kitchen so tiny, I can’t get it all into one photo, even though I have some great camera lenses.

A kitchen so tiny, we have only cutlery sized drawers and not ‘pot’ drawers. A kitchen so small that EVERY SQUARE INCH counts when it comes to functionality and storage.

PLEASE Tell me that not EVERYONE on the planet has an ‘island’ with granite counters? Or a peninsula with barstools? Or an APPLIANCE CABINET?! OH for the love of Pete! haha

Over the course of the last four years, we have worked WONDERS on this tiny kitchen of ours. It took a bit of planning, a bit of ‘trying’ and a lot of elbow grease – but now, it functions pretty well and (when it’s tidy! lololololol) it looks pretty snazzy, despite its size.

Let’s go on this journey, shall we?

Phase One: Assessing the Space You Have 

This was the kitchen shortly after we moved in. The only thing I had done at this point was replace the lighting, both over the sink and the ceiling fixture. Both were originally these weird three bulb kind of lights like something you’d hang over a pool table… I dunno. Anyway – within a day of moving in, I installed that glass pendant at the sink and the track lights on the ceiling. 

Phase Two: Make some Big Aesthetic Improvements with Paint

Tip about paint: If you’re working in a small space, it’s best to carry the colour all the way up and over the walls to the ceiling. That is what we did with our Simply White paint.  Below is a terrible photo, but you can see how it looked mid-paint. This was Summer 2013 and I’d just finished painting the upper cabinets. We hadn’t tackled the walls or the lowers yet.

You don’t have to use white – but a lighter colour in a small space like this certainly helps with the feeling of ‘big’. You’ll see in a bit that we went white on the cabinets and ceiling and chose a colour for the walls. 

Phase Three: Increase Lighting and Counter Surfaces where Possible

The next thing we did to maximize space was to remove the cabinets from either side of the window. We also removed the scalloped window transom as well. Doing this allowed A LOT more light into the small room, which instantly makes it feel more spacious and it let us replace the bulky cabinets with bracket shelves. In fact, we only ever put shelves to the right of the sink. I made sure those cabinets were put to good use though!

You’ll also notice in this shot (Summer 2014 maybe?) that the fridge has been replaced by a dishwasher and small rack, the counter extends to the wall and there’s now an open shelf on the right hand side. This was all in efforts to make the kitchen look larger and give us more prep space. Even though our kitchen is teeny, we managed to get almost 18 linear feet of countertop in! That’s more than lots of those ‘big’ kitchens!

Phase Four: Assess the placement of Appliances

No, we didn’t get rid of the fridge, – but we did move it out of this frame and to the other side of the kitchen. We had an electrician rewire the outlets to allow the dishwasher to be installed and the fridge to sit on the opposite wall. That’s also why and how we found the space to build our massively popular DIY Pull-out Pantry. What a God Send! And one of the BEST ways to make a tiny kitchen work!

Phase Five: Add in Style, Decor and Function

Once we had those main elements taken care of: the paint, the demo, the pantry/fridge, the dishwasher, the lighting – we were able to add bits of style to the kitchen to make it feel like us. We removed the green-ish painted bead board on the walls and painted them a medium tone blue. I’m not sure if I’m still loving the blue. I might repaint this fall – I can’t decide. Either way, there isn’t a lot of wall space in the kitchen, so the colour is never going to be overwhelming.

Then we added the inexpensive bead board backsplash! This is one of our most popular projects too. It cost us a cool $60 and saved our behinds when we didn’t want to tile. I might still tile – but this interim solution is just fine. It’s a breeze to keep clean and adds a bit of texture to the kitchen without being too over the top. Update: we added in Smart Tiles to the kitchen last month. You can see that transformation here.

BeadBoard Backsplash

Also in the back splash category, you might have noticed the herringbone pattern on the little shelf with the bowls above the dishwasher! That was also a DIY and it was SO simple to do! And bonus? It’s also temporary.

HELLO Herringbone!

My most recent space saving project might be my favorite. The addition of the vintage industrial mug rack makes my heart sing! And I think it completes the look of the kitchen. Not to mention, it saves A LOT of space in the cupboards. 

So somehow, I’ve managed to survive with a 10×10 kitchen, no island, no peninsula, no granite countertops, no barstools and no appliance cupboard. Send reinforcements. Or don’t. Because I’m FINE with my small kitchen! It’s easy to clean and it’s not lacking in style at all. This is what it looks like today.

For more on our kitchen adventures, check out the links below. I’ve also got a few other blogger projects on small kitchens for you too.

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Lucy

Friday 5th of March 2021

I love that you call this kitchen 'small'. Small to me is like having one cupboard, 2 rings for the stove and one sink so tiny you can't wash dishes in it, nor do you have space for a dishwasher.

I mean, seriously, if you call the beginning state of this kitchen small, I wonder what big means!! LOL.

Kelley

Thursday 5th of September 2019

This is not a small kitchen, it’s average size. Even a galley kitchen is bigger than mine. 2 bottom cupboards and 4 up top. Doorways everywhere that can’t be closed. I dream of that amount of cupboards and counter space.

Em

Sunday 21st of July 2019

Sorry “Rev-a-shelf tip-out tray” from Home Depot

Em

Sunday 21st of July 2019

Hi-I need help coming up with ideas. My kitchen is one third the size of yours and I can’t paint or remodel because I rent a one bedroom apartment. I’m so frustrated. I have cabinets along the wall in a narrow hallway style kitchen (most of which I can’t reach because I’m 4’11. The refrigerator is (old and dingy) on the same wall and next to it is about a 4ft x 2ft and 1- inch countertop nestled between the oven and the sink and a 2ft and 1-inch x 1ft and 2-inch bit of countertop space on the other side of the sink. The space next to the oven is taken up by my microwave and countertop dishwasher. (I need a dishwasher). But I have two blank walls and a space under the cabinet above the oven that I wish I could put my microwave into but I’m not allowed to modify the woodwork in any way. If I could, then a lot of this wouldn’t be a problem. I have ordered “rev-a-shelf” which turns the fake drawer spaces under the sink into tip out storage for sponges and the like. Hopefully that won’t get me in any hot water. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Lea

Thursday 3rd of August 2017

Love this. I live in Waco ( hello Chip & Jo) but my hubs and I do remodeling and have helped many people make beautiful practical kitchens, (including our own in a double-wide) and yes, they are a breeze to clean and keep from accruing too much clutter!

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